Victoria & Abdul (2017)

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

Heralded as a masterpiece by many of the critics, Victoria & Abdul is a touching and sad story of an unlikely friendship between two people from different racial and religious backgrounds.

Plucked from India and sent to England to present Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) with a coin, ambitious young Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal) sees it as a grand adventure. Given strict instructions not to meet the queen's eye, he does the unthinkable and holds her gaze as he backs away from her at the long table. Rather than show insult, Victoria likes it, and appoints him as her personal servant. Once he offers new opinions, she becomes interested in her status as the Empress of India. She appoints him as her teacher, and invites him to educate her in all his customs, language, and traditions.

This does not please her son, Bertie (Eddie Izzard) nor the people of court, and they band together to undermine Abdul's influence over their monarch, concerned at the amount of power the "Hindi savage" seems to be accumulating.

The history behind this film is interesting, and the film manages to capture some but not all of the story (the real Abdul was perhaps more ambitious than his extremely likable on-screen counterpart) while being a non-sexualized love story between two very different people, and a tale of prejudice and racial divides. Abdul does not always tell the queen the truth, or sugarcoats it to favor his side, while she shows an infatuation with him reminiscent of an adolescent in love. Starry-eyed, she hangs on his every word, oblivious to the spectacle she makes of herself, but it doesn't matter, because all she seeks is his approval... and all he wants, is hers. The thematic elements present are serious and jarring, based in various humiliations experienced on both sides and in documenting the injustices against him after the queen's eventual death. It intends to assault your heartstrings and succeeds on many levels.

The costume design is wonderful, as is the cast, populated with familiar faces from British television productions and films, with the perfect huffy ladies in waiting. Racism is the main theme, a brazen documentation of people seeking to undermine and get rid of someone of a different race, but there's also subtle lessons here about living in delusions, infatuation, friendship, and the merging of cultures. I felt the at times salty language was out of place with the splendor of the rest of it, but if you are a fan of costume dramas or history or both, it's well worth a rent.

Sexual Content:
The queen tells her doctor to examine the Hindi couple to make sure "everything works down there"; the doctor is elated to find out that Abdul suffers from "the clap." We see a man raise his garment from behind to show the doctor his privates (no nudity).
 
Language:
Racist slang. Uses of d*ck, arsehole, bloody, and sh*t.
 
Violence:
None.

Other:
Some social drinking, cruelty toward someone of another race.